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Airplay vs. Sales - By Bryan Farrish (
"Sales" is one of the most common goals that people have when they promote their music to radio (second only to "awareness".) And now is a good time for sales, since 1999 was the top year in history for both the number of CDs sold, and the amount of money spent on them (it was also the top year in history for the amount of money spent on radio advertising.)
Yes, airplay is the most important force in selling large quantities of CDs, especially in areas where you cannot play live. But I need to emphasize that the term "selling CDs" does not mean that your phone will start ringing with orders from websites and stores. To cause large sales to happen, you need to contact store buyers. You may get a few web orders, but most of your sales will be retail (98 percent of all CD sales in 1999 were in-person at retail stores.) Your final sales will be a result of (1) your airplay, (2) your distribution (consignment, self, indie or major), and (3) how well you sell when you call the stores. With this in mind, here are some rough airplay-to-sales guidelines...

College radio is the starting point. If your music is playing several times a week on a particular medium or large college station, you can probably sell 1 CD per week in EACH store that is in the same town that the station is. This is a realistic goal for an artist/label that has not done this before. Labels that *have* done it before (and do *only* college radio) top out at around 30,000 units of their best title, and maybe 2000 for their worst. But these labels know what they are doing. Your sales will not be this high.

Commercial specialty/mixshow radio, if done by itself, would probably have about the same sales ceiling as college radio by itself. But most labels that are going for "sales" (and not just awareness) do specialty/mixshow and college radio together. Thus, their best titles top out around 50,000 to 75,000, and bottom out around 5,000. But remember, they are doing two separate radio campaigns together, and they probably have 3 people doing just the retail sales (full time).

Commercial regular rotation is where the real sales occur. But to do it properly (meaning, to do the radio and the sales together) is extremely difficult. It is possible, of course, to do commercial regular rotation for just the awareness value alone (i.e., not attempting sales,) but in this article, we are incorporating sales into the concept.

Rock, pop and urban releases on indie labels have the capacity to top 100,000 if distributed by a major, 50,000 if distributed by an indie, 10,000 if self distributed, or 5000 on consignment. But these are expensive radio campaigns, ranging from $10,000 to $150,000, and they require a strong effort at retail (3 to 5 full-time people to sell 100,000 units). PR and touring would be nice, too. Other genres, like AAA or smooth jazz, are much more limited in sales, because there are fewer stations and because their listeners buy fewer CDs.

Considering all the above, here are some of the big variables which will determine your final sales (assuming that both the artist and the label are new, and assuming that this is all separate from your web efforts)...

1. Your airplay
2. How much listeners like the music.
3. Radio advertising (an additional cost).
4. How often you call the stores to make a sale.
5. Press
6. Touring
7. The amount of time you spend on the campaign.

Happy selling!

Bryan Farrish is an independent radio airplay promoter. He can be reached at 818-905-8038 or

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